Carrot Cake for Easter

April 4, 2015

An early, kind of lonely, but fresh from the light rain morning.
At the store's parking lot, while I was putting bunches of flowers into my car, a friendly, elderly gentleman smiled at me "You are buying Spring, eh?" 
Was I really trying to buy Spring? Was that a good thing? Or a bad thing? Could I buy Spring in a world where pretty much everything can be purchased? It made me ponder... I didn't have an answer, but one thing for sure, I was and still am in desperate need for spring, for colours, for light, for happy birds, green trees and scented flowers.
But Spring heralds more than a change in nature. With the rebirth of the earth, I start to feel inspired and brave, alive and ready for a transformational change in my mind, in my life. There is always this tangible sense of anticipation. There is always new energy that envelops the body. New Awakening!
Spring in my soul, in my spirit, in my self. Gladness in my heart. Vigor in my faith in sanity of the world, in the morality of others, in the power of suffering and forgiveness. Going back to my self. Touching my true nature - being one with the Light, unafraid of pain and joy, being Here. Whole! 
"Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second's encounter with God and with eternity." 
                                                                                                                                                                                                       ~Paulo Coelho 

To all of you who celebrate Easter, I wish you enlightenment. When He raises the crucified man and gives him eternal life, may He rise us all to the highest awakening of being humans - spiritual, vulnerable, humble, brave, honest, non-judgmental, compassionate, generous and forgiving. May He rise us to the understanding that the strongest, graceful soul "emerges out of suffering." Once we truly understand hardship, we understand happiness. Thank you all for making me believe in me, in you, in the goodness of humanity. 

Carrot Cake 

This is my first ever carrot cake, and I have to tell you, it is the best carrot cake I have ever made. Seriously, beneath this unpretentious look, lie multiple layers (not very even) of moist and chewy, back-to-the-basics flavourful cake rich on sweet carrots, walnuts, little bits of raisins, exotic spices and delicious cheese frosting. I combined several recipes to come up with this one. 


2 cups finely grated carrots
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cup oil
4 large eggs at room temperature
2 tsp. pure vanilla
finely grated zest of 1 orange
2 1/4 all- purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground nutmegs
1/4 tsp/ allspice (optional)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup raisins

Cream Cheese Frosting:

2 pkg. (250gr. each) cream cheese, softened
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 tsp. pure vanilla
2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 cups confectioner's sugar
1 tbsp. honey  


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and dust with flour.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Set aside. 

3. In a large bowl, beat together sugars, oil, eggs (one at a time), vanilla, and orange zest. Whisk in the dry ingredients, until well combined. Using a spoon, stir in the carrots, walnuts and raisins. 

4. Divide batter into the two prepared pans and bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Let cool completely in pans on a wire rack. 

 5. Make the icing by blending the cream cheese, butter, vanilla lemon juice and honey. Gradually add sugar, beating until incorporated. 

 6. Place one of the layers on a serving plate. Spread 1 cup frosting over cake. Top with second cake and spread the remaining frosting over top and side. 

Enjoy and have a Happy Easter!

Family Road Trip: Rainy Nashville

March 27, 2015

Packing was fast and painless, completed literally minutes before the departure. We put the luggage in the trunk, a blanket and a pillow for the back seats of the car where our 6'1" son enthusiastically assured us that he was going to be ok, two mugs with strong coffee between the front seats, favourite old CDs I haven't listened to in decades in the player, maps, books and brochures in the car's door pockets and a set destination on the GPS. The driver, my husband, warned the passengers to put on their best behaviours and adventurous spirits, and before even realizing the situation properly, we found our car waiting in line at the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor,  ready to enter the United States of America.    
A road trip to Florida has been on our family agenda for a long time. It's a great Canadian tradition - being sick of the winter cold, to get the entire family in the car and hit the road usually during the Spring Break in search for sunny weather, palm beaches and the magical world of Disney. But for us – we mostly wanted to explore more of America, to go back to the places in Florida that my husband had traveled alone almost fourteen years ago, and most importantly to have quality family time spent together, creating memories and experiences before our son is old enough to prefer to travel with friends instead of mom and dad. Besides, we love good road trips and we love traveling.
With no special preparation and planning (contrary to any advices), except a visit to the local CAA office, which I highly recommend, and of course car safety checks, we chose the best winter route I-75 to reach the Sunshine State and I-95 for our way back to Toronto. I have to point out that roads in the USA are excellent, with plenty of service facilities - rest areas, gas stations, food (keep in mind mostly fast food joints), lodging exits and welcome visitors centres.
After a 1200 km drive (using I-65 as well) and a night in a motel outside the city limit of our first desired destination, we were ambling through the wet historic district on Broadway Avenue in Music City,


There is no doubt that the very soul of this city is music and it is the centre of the universe for honky-tonk fans. You don't have to frequent the countless bars and honky-tonks to hear live music - the tunes and lyrics are coming from every open door of the old structures and from the guitarists performing at every corner of the streets even on this rainy Saturday morning when the light drizzle added its own sound and beauty to the already vibrant Nashville downtown. One can't stop thinking that the band he or she was just listening to might just be the next big thing. Music here is written, recorded and performed every day. For my son's entertainment, it was the weekend of the 2015 SEC Men's Basketball Tournament and hundreds of Kentucky Wildcats fans wearing blue jerseys created a festive and celebratory mood. But as the friendly locals assured us, no matter when you visit, there is always something special going on in Music City. Moreover, the city has fast gained reputation among foodies to take a trip solely for eating.
With so many interesting sights to be seen in such little time, navigating and choosing the best picks was the biggest challenge of our road trip. I wanted to see everything, to know everything, to taste every meal that locals love to eat. My son had his own preferences, my husband was the accountant taking care of the spending. So, reading travel guides, gaining information, discussing it and staying flexible and ready to compromise were the keys to making the most of our road trip experience.


Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is a must for every music fan. Walking at least a hour and a half through two floors of exhibits, videos, memorabilia - instruments, costumes, automobiles - you can learn everything about the history of American country music. The museum also offers a tour of one of the most famous studios in the world, Studio B, where Elvis recorded more music that anywhere else.

Ernest Tubb Record Shop deserves a peak inside. Opened in the 1940s by singer-songwriter Tubb, it is a Nashville landmark where music still lives. Singing along tunes of a favourite song while looking at the photos that line the walls, you can feel the spirit of the past. Plus, you can also come across some rare vinyl, CDs, books, or perhaps little kitschy souvenirs of your trip.

The Parthenon is a sight of Nashville not to be missed, especially driving with a teen, who appreciates music a lot, but who is not a big country music fan. The Parthenon is located in the lush Centennial Park and is a full-scale replica of the ancient temple on the Acropolis in Athene, Greece. Nashville is also known around the country as the "Athens of the South." I highly recommend a tour inside the museum (admissions: adult $7.00, children (4-17) $5.00), since you don't want to miss the impressive 42-foot-high sculpture of Athena, the goddess of wisdom. Made of gypsum cement with chopped fiberglass by Alan LeQuir from Nashville, the statue is gilded and painted with 8 pounds of 23.75 carat gold. You can also enjoy a stunning art collection of paintings by American artist, donated to the Parthenon by native Tennessean James M. Cowan.

Goo Goo Cluster is an original candy bar, made with real milk chocolate, peanuts, caramel and marshmallow, invented in 1912 in Nashville. Often advertised as "the South's favourite candy", it is a candy staple in Nashville. In the store you can watch goo goo clusters be made by hand right in front of you.

We needed to go back to I-75 in order to continue to our final point - Florida where the scenic stretch led us to beautiful


and we unanimously decided to stop and spend good two hours strolling along the riverfront of this charming place. We had lunch at family friendly restaurant Mellow Mushrooms, the originators of Classic Southern Pizza, according to their website.
Bluff View Art District, overlooking the Tennessee River is a historic neighbourhood with lovely small paths, hidden sculpture gardens, galleries, cafes and restaurants, giving a genuine pleasure in being experienced. If you are into European style desserts, pastries, coffees, breads and sandwiches as we are, you will be utterly satisfied with Rembrandt's Coffee House.

It was already late afternoon and obviously, we would be in Atlanta at night. We would make a night-car-tour in the Big Peach and would continue our way on the road until we chose a hotel to stay overnight.      

Have you ever been to Nashville? Or perhaps, you live in Nashville? What do you like to do and see there?

Be Fierce

February 8, 2015

It's snowing. I don't mind it. I like it. I love watching it through the misted window from my bed. The slow flying snowflakes make me feel calm and I slow myself down. The world is gently forced into having a slower beat, dwelling in muted colours, mastering patience, experiencing stillness... I long for staying home all day, reading books, drinking coffee, cuddling in the comfort of warmth, food, feather blankets and fresh flowers.
When I start really slowing down, somehow in the corner of my hibernating mind, questions arise - What I want for myself and my life, what matters most to me, what is it that I want to offer the world, how might I get there...
I do not believe in resolutions, do not make to-do lists and rarely pick a word of the year, but when I feel the overwhelming need to make changes, I stop and take time to listen to what my heart is telling me at this very moment.
"You have work to do", is what I am hearing with every heartbeat. "You better start now, but do small steps without worrying if they are necessarily sufficient.

What you want for yourself and your life?

You have work to do in regards of exposing and maintaining the most authentic, creative, and kinder version of yourself. You need to be more self-aware, ego-less, enthusiastic, self-confident and specially disciplined in order to channel your energy and mind towards what matters most to you. Pull yourself into the present and trust your current circumstances.

What do you love to do? Do you know what your Element is? 

You love to write, you love to take photos. Creating prose and images that will help you and others live a meaningful life by pausing and noticing the beauty around is what makes you feel in your element. Do it every day! Focus your attention on writing for 30 minutes and shooting one photo every day. In this little block of time, practice your passion consistently and stay on track despite the environment you find yourself in. This sounds unglamorous, but this is the way you will master your crafts, the ones that you love to do. Never stop reading books, they will always help you gain a sense of yourself and the world.

What is it that you want to offer the world? How might you get there?

Stop waiting for things to get perfect. Maintain a healthy self-esteem and show acceptance. It's time to stop comparing your work with the work of others. Everyone is on her and his own path and by trusting your own journey, you will be more kind to yourself and your creative spirit.
Work in the direction of  cultivating enthusiasm and determination to continue when falling in the gap of feeling short and not good enough. Go back to the brilliant advice by Ira Glass in which you always find comfort and motivation.


"Fight your way through that, okay?"

Be unstoppable.
Be Fierce. 
Take risks.
Push yourself out of your comfort zone and recognize the need of creative entitlement - embrace it as a liberty of having a vision and a voice that deserves to be shown to the world.
Be Fierce.
You are already that, but you may not been fully investing it.

You have work to do. Better start now", I am hearing with every heartbeat... while the snow is covering the world in white, making it a blank sheet of paper, wide-open for a new story, for a new wisdom...

Thank you to Stampington & Company for asking me to elaborate on Artful Resolutions for one of their special  projects.

Thank you for reading.

Sharing with Home Sweet Home

Tropicana Club

February 2, 2015

"Open to the sky, the stage appears to float in a prehistoric jungle of oversize ferns. Coffee-coloured girls dressed in spangles slink down the branches towards the audience of else shimmy down creeping wines. The retro orchestra kicks in with mambo, and the warm breeze carries the perfume of expensive cigar smoke. Waitresses even more stunning than the dancers bring another round of mojitos, and you wonder just how you go to heaven." 

                                                                                                                                        - Alfredo Jose Estrada, author 

You can't go to Paris without going to the Eiffel Tower, right? I thing the same applied when visiting Havana. You can't be there and not experience the world-known cabaret and nightclub Tropicana, that first opened its doors in the distant December 30,1939 and reached its glory nights in the 1950s. Even if you are not a big enthusiast of Latino music and dances (as myself), you don't want to miss the lavish spectacle of colour, movement and sound under the stars of Havana's night sky. Americans once flew from Miami to Havana on a plane with live music and a wet bar just to catch the show. I guess they were lucky to be entertained by Nat King Cole or Josephine Beker whose photos adorn the walls of the Rodney restaurant, named after the original choreographer Neyra. But I have to admit, I was impressed by the great dancers and musicians and the passion radiating from their performances. It is a glittering show featuring over 200 artists, showcasing an array of Cuban culture through music, dance, and a compelling display of pageantry. Pulsating salsa, cha-cha, mambo, jazz, ballet, acrobatic, feathers, beads, bikinis, a little retro, a little kitsch, and pear-shaped bodies spotting crystal chandeliers on their heads under constantly changing colourful light make one's eyes dart from right to left, from stage to stage.
Of course, I couldn't help but wonder what my experience must have looked like if I arrived at this classic showplace under the lush canopy of trees, let's say in 1956 - my husband in a tuxedo, I in a black evening gown and white satin gloves - slowly sipping cocktails, while sneaking a peak of Marlon Brando at the front row table in the audience or perhaps Elizabeth Taylor, or Greta Garbo... ;)

If you plan a visit to Tropicana Club, Havana, you might want to know:

  • Tickets to the Tropicana can be purchased at hotels and tour agencies in Havana or from the tour operator at the resort you are staying. There are 3 different price levels and options. For the most expensive show ticket, at 95 CUC (convertible pesos), we were given a bottle of Havana Club Anejo Especial Rum per table, a glass of champagne as a welcome drink, a can of coke and a bowl of nuts during the show. (You are not allowed to have any of the allocated drinks (rum, coke, wine) until the show actually starts. If you order a cocktail, it will cost 5CUC). For additional 10 CUC, we had dinner at Rodney restaurant.  
  • The show starts at 10:00 pm and ends around midnight. The women receive a flower and men are given a cigar upon entrance. 
  • At the entrance you will be charged 5 CUC if you bring in a camera, 10 CUC for an iPad and 15 CUC for video camera. (?)
  • The dress code is formal. 

If you have already been to Tropicana Club in Havana, I would love to hear about your experience. 

Thank you for reading. 

Old Havana

January 16, 2015

" Havana is very much like a rose: it has petals, and it has thorns... So it depends on how you grab it, but in the end, it always grabs you..." (The Lost City)

Life here seems simple and slower. Everything operates in slow living mode. Carsnew and mostly relics from the pastalongside cycle-rickshaws, coco-taxis and horse carriages move at a leisurely pace creating a traffic-free city. Colourful cloths lines that decorate every wrought-iron balcony slowly swing on a gentle, almost undetectable warm breeze. Street dogs wander around the narrow cobblestone streets. In the middle of the Plaza Vieja, kids play baseball. Smell of rich coffee and freshly lit cigars engage the senses and awaken the free bohemian spirit. Live music, an essential ingredient to life, comes from every corner and bar; the signature tune of Chan Chan are slowly penetration the air giving rise to nostalgia and joy at the same time.

Out of the rooftop terrace of Ambos Mundos Hotel, home to Hemingway for seven years in the 30s, one can witness the Atlantic's waves crashing slowly against the seawalls while separating the island from the world by water and not only. Colonial buildings, most of them newly renovated (since my last visit, seven years ago), other still timeworn, faded in colour, speak of a past that was much more grandeur and vibrant. Wooden doors are open right out into the street and envelop a slice of life somehow different from what we know.

Life happens on the street here and people are watching. Whether from a vantage point of a doorstep, or a bench, or while waiting in a queue, but mostly from their balconies, people observe the world passing by their eyes. There is no hurry here (Cubans operate in a different time frame from the one we are used to"Cuban time"). There is just life unfolding the way it is supposed to unfold and readiness of embracing it with an opulent joy. There is a presence of calmness and an absence of time that makes Havana pules with different energy and liveliness. There is this undefined flavour to the citycharisma, romance, beauty, charming classic cars and endless sunshine that makes you forget this is still a country that remains a bastion of communism and central planning, with different economic, social and cultural life. Despite the free education and the universal health care, Cubans face poverty and day-to-day problemswage levels, double-currency system, shortage of basic goods, lack of transportation, limited access to information and Internet (beneficial to us as tourists), restriction for traveling and assembly, est.

But, there is also a tangible sense of change and hope for transformation impossible to be overlooked this time. "Cuba is changing", "We want change", we were told by the locals we met. In fact, a recent law allows more citizens to run their own businesses, and properties in the historic quarter now available to rent from the state creates a new wave of self-employment. I believe Cuban people deserve better choices: yet, I know from experience that social and economical changes take time and will happen slowly as everything here on this geographical location.
The big challenge, however, would be balancing modernization and preservation of authenticity and richness of Cuban life beyond money and possessions.

The slow pace of life, the captivating colours that burst the artistic souls, the tremendous beauty and charm in things that many would argue to be the opposite, the unspoiled nature and these people who are vibrant, filled with vitality and contagious zest for life, I hope will always stay the same.    


Dear friends, Happy New Year!
It gives you an opportunity to fill those fresh 365 days with whatever your hearts desire. May 2015 be the most exciting ever. I feel grateful and blessed for mine starting with this wonderful trip to one of the most fascinating places in the world. 


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